LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Defending USL Cup champion Louisville City FC earned the right to defend its title with a 5-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls II in the Eastern Conference Final of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs on Friday night before a crowd of 10,059 at Slugger Field.
Substitute Speedy Williams scored a second-half brace and Ilija Ilic, Luke Spencer and Brian Ownby also found the net for the hosts, who defeated the Red Bulls II at this stage for the second straight season. Louisville will become the first USL club to host back-to-back USL Cups when it tries to defend its 2017 title against either Orange County SC or Phoenix Rising FC at Lynn Stadium on Thursday, November 8 at 8 p.m. ET.
The home side had a golden opportunity to open the scoring eight minutes into the contest as Ilic split the New York defense with a perfect pass that sent USL Golden Boot-winner Cameron Lancaster clean through on goal, but the forward chipped an effort wide of the target as he tried to lift the ball over onrushing Red Bulls II goalkeeper Evan Louro.
Moments later, things went from bad to worse for Louisville’s leading scorer – who netted a league record 25 goals during the regular season – as he appeared to land awkwardly after losing a 50-50 challenge with New York defender Hassan Ndam. Lancaster remained down on the pitch for a few minutes to receive treatment before he eventually limped over to the sidelines and was replaced by Spencer.
The Red Bulls II had a chance to swing the momentum even more in their favor in the 17th minute, as referee Ramy Touchan pointed to the spot after George Davis IV had clipped the heel of New York forward Jared Stroud as he tried to latch onto Ethan Kutler’s diagonal cross. Chris Lema stepped up to the spot for New York, but the midfielder slipped at the pivotal moment and lofted his effort over Greg Ranjitsingh’s crossbar.
The referee was the center of attention once again just five minutes later as he awarded another penalty kick – this time to Louisville – after New York captain Andrew Tinari shoved Ilic near the edge of the box following a short corner routine. Ilic placed the ball on the penalty spot and sent Louro the wrong way, rolling a right-footed effort into the bottom-left corner to open the scoring.
The home side doubled its advantage in the 32nd minute as the substitute Spencer tapped home Ownby’s low cross from the left wing to cap a well-worked passing move. New York pressed to pull a goal back before the break and nearly capitalized on a Louisville turnover in its defensive third as Jose Aguinaga slipped a pass to Stroud, who scuffed his shot wide of the frame with two minutes remaining in the opening half.
Louro kept his side in the game with a crucial save three minutes after halftime as he dove at full stretch to his left to parry a long-range effort from Louisville midfielder Niall McCabe. Ranjitsingh replied with a stellar stop on the other end in the 53rd minute, reacting quickly to keep out Tom Barlow’s header after the New York forward got on the end of Aguinaga’s driven cross.
The visitors pulled a goal back seven minutes later as Kutler was allowed time and space to deliver an inch-perfect cross from the right and Barlow made the most of his second chance, heading the ball past Ranjitsingh and into the bottom-right corner of the net for his second goal of the postseason.
Louisville restored its two-goal advantage in the 73rd minute as Williams – who won the 2016 USL Cup as a member of the Red Bulls II – haunted his former club with a right-footed shot from the right side of the penalty area that whizzed past Louro and into the back of the net. Williams doubled his tally just two minutes later with a spectacular strike from the top of the box that evaded Louro’s outstretched arms and essentially sealed his side’s victory.
Louisville wasn’t done quite yet, though, as Ownby rounded out an emphatic win with his side’s fifth goal of the night nine minutes from time, firing a rebound into the back of the net after Louro had saved the forward’s initial effort.
23’ – LOU – Ilija Ilic (penalty)
32’ – LOU – Luke Spencer (Brian Ownby)
60’ – NY – Tom Barlow (Ethan Kutler)
73’ – LOU – Speedy Williams (Niall McCabe)
75’ – LOU – Speedy Williams (Brian Ownby)
81’ – LOU – Brian Ownby
1. For the second consecutive year, Louisville City FC advanced to the USL Cup with a conference final victory over the New York Red Bulls II. This year’s win was far more comfortable than the 2017 edition, which Louisville won in a penalty shootout on its way to hoisting its first USL Cup. The reigning champion are the fourth team to reach two USL Cups, following Orlando City SC (2011, 2013), the Harrisburg City Islanders (2011, 2014) and the Swope Park Rangers (2016, 2017) and just the second to do so in back-to-back seasons (Swope Park). Louisville will become the first team to host back-to-back USL Cups, and with a win over either Orange County SC or Phoenix Rising FC, it would be the first USL club to repeat as champion.
2. Louisville midfielder Speedy Williams came off the bench and made a nearly instant impact against his former club. Williams, who won the 2016 USL Cup with the Red Bulls II, entered the fray in the 64th minute with the game finely balanced at 2-1 and gave his side some breathing room with two goals in quick succession. After scoring just once in his previous 32 appearances this season, Williams delivered two right-footed blasts that left New York goalkeeper Evan Louro with no chance to propel his side back to the USL Cup.
3. For the second consecutive season, the New York Red Bulls II saw their season come to an end at Slugger Field. This defeat will be particularly disappointing as New York failed to take advantage of its early opportunities, including a 17th-minute penalty kick, which could have given the side some stability and confidence in the game’s early stages. Head Coach John Wolyniec will be proud of his side’s effort to get to this point, but will surely be frustrated after conceding five goals, especially after making such strides on the defensive end over the past month and a half. Despite the setback, New York will expect to remain a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the side make another run to this stage or further next season.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Speedy Williams, Louisville City FC – A second-half substitute, Williams scored twice in a three-minute span against his former club to end any threat of a New York comeback and send his side back to the USL Cup for the second straight season.
USL Cup – Louisville City FC vs. Orange County SC / Phoenix Rising FC winner, Thursday, November 8, 8 p.m. ET, Lynn Stadium
New York Red Bulls II – End of Season